Going to college: things I wish I didn’t have to say to my daughter

By: Amy Torchia,Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

“It is estimated that 1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there — 1 in 5.”

–President Obama, remarks at White House, Jan. 22, 2014

“We know the numbers: one in five of every one of those young women who is dropped off for that first day of school, before they finish school, will be assaulted, will be assaulted in her college years.”

–Vice President Biden, remarks on the release of a White House report on sexual assault, April 29, 2014

This stat comes from The Campus Sexual Assault Study and is enough to send a mother of a 16-year-old daughter, someone like me, off the deep end.

We’re thinking about college now.  I am envisioning my daughter living in a dorm on a campus someplace far from home.  Home –Vermont, dirt road, small village, small school, lots of secure connections and community, the place we’ve worked to make emotionally and physically safe for her.  The rest of the world …not so much.

Paying attention to the recent spotlight on sexual assault on college campuses, I am in a bit of a parenting panic.  There are things coming out of my mouth that I swore I would never say to her.  Things like:

“It is safer to travel in a pack of two or three…..and even safer if one of you is a guy that you trust.”

“There are parties on college campuses where the whole goal is to get freshman girls drunk or drugged and rape them.”

“Drinking makes you more vulnerable.”

“Maybe we should think about a college without frat houses.”

I swore I would never say these things because I know that it should not be up to my daughter to keep herself safe from sexual violence.  I know that it is up to perpetrators of sexual violence to stop raping people, preying on freshman girls, using drugs and alcohol to facilitate rape.  I know that is the responsibility of our communities, campuses, administrations, etc. to shift the focus away from telling victims how they should have avoided being raped to holding rapists accountable for their behavior.  I know it is ridiculous to think that I can keep her safe by telling her what type of person to stay away from, what not to do, where to be when it’s dark.  It is no better than talking to her about not wearing short skirts.

But, I cannot NOT say these things to her!  Not until the world is a safe place for women and girls.  It is not now.  Right now – it is a balancing act between safety planning with teen girls about the realities of sexual assault on college campuses and supporting primary prevention efforts that will do away with college rape culture.

The new White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,1 is 2 many, has released a new initiative called Not Alone which provides resources to students, advocates, and universities.  The initiative highlights the importance of changing attitudes that lead to violence and educating the public on the realities of abuse.  The White House is leading the way in an effort to stop this violence before it begins.  This site also links to a data map where you can read resolution agreements, court filings and Clery Act reports addressing sexual violence and harassment on campuses around the country.

When my daughter starts to apply to colleges – we’ll be looking at programs of study, financial aid packages, scholarships, if the cafeteria serves healthy food, and… The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) public list of schools that are under OCR investigation.


To learn more about what colleges are doing to prevent sexual and dating violence, read about the Campus SAVE Act here: campussaveact.org*